WASHINGTON, DC – The bunting furls in the afternoon sun – red white and blue – against the nation’s capital. The fans teeming the streets drain through the Nationals Park gates, laying their phones in baskets as they pass through the metal detectors, then placing them under the bar-code readers to accept their displayed tickets.
New Commissioner of Baseball Rob Manfred is out in front of the mound, ready to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. It’s a big day here in Washington, not just the start of a new season in which the home team is considered a favorite to win it all, but also the tenth birthday of the Nationals. Yes, it’s been over a decade since there was a Montreal Expos, a team that suffered from cruel economics and was forced to move, but baseball marches on. That’s something Manfred has been thinking about a lot lately, leading up to this his first game finally out from the hunched shadow of his mentor Bud Selig, and he knows he shouldn’t but can’t help but wonder about what legacy he’ll be leaving when all is said and done.
As a protector, he hopes, a noble reformer who brought the game back to its purist roots while also appealing to a new, notably less patient generation. It was while he was thinking about this that the umpire waved his arms and pointed to his watch. His newly allotted two minutes and twenty-five seconds were over, and he’s forced to pay a $10 thousand fine for holding up the game.
As he took his seat next to the home dugout, glad handing the sycophants (oh the sycophants, after so many years as one he was looking forward to them most of all!), Manfred was feeling that sense of end-of-the-tunnel relief, when for reasons unclear a chill ran down his spine…and when somebody yelled “Oh my god, is that a gorilla taking the field in a Mets uniform?!” he whirled around in a panic, unsure what he was looking at until the person added “oh, ha, it’s just Bartolo Colon.”
The game indeed moved right along, though whether because of the new time limits or Max Scherzer mowing the Mets down without much resistance, and Manfred was feeling pretty good about himself as God Bless America was performed during the seventh inning stretch. He was in the middle of explaining why getting rid of shifts was just the beginning, how he was contemplating a way to get rid of the cut-off man to increase scoring, when the crowd gasped at a bad hop that ricocheted off of Wilmer Flores’s cheekbone, forcing him to be helped off the field. “Ladies and Gentlemen, now playing shortstop for the New York Mets,” the announcer echoed over the loudspeakers as something enormous emerged from the opposite dugout, “Korak O’Roark.”
Manfred gaped as a 800-pound gorilla in a surprisingly well tailored Mets uniform rumbled out to shortstop, smacked his glove and hunkered down into position. The next ball was laced up the middle, a sure hit until the big ape covered twenty steps in a blink, sliding and snagging it not with his glove, but with one of his feet. His enormous arms slammed the turf and he changed direction in an instant, slapping aside the gape-jawed Daniel Murphy in the way as he gripped the keystone bag, as Bryce Harper came in spikes high on the rookie to break up two. Korak flipped, one hand bracing on Harper’s face as he whipped over the top with his foot and fired the ball to first to easily complete the double play.
The crowd of 43,000 were stunned silent for a minute, in which Manfred’s brain struggled to process what it had just seen… but then a roar from Korak on the field seemed to break the moment, and was answered by a roar from the stands that could be heard from the White House and caused two Secret Service accidents. Commissioner Manfred suddenly had a whole new idea what his legacy might be like.
Big Al Sternberg, who as Fake Sandy Alderson is no gorilla in the mist, tomorrow.